Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Thanks, Mom

Simple words that shaped how I live today

In my mind, it was already decided. I was hot. I was tired. I was battered.

I was done.

"Mom," I said, slumping in the car seat as the air conditioning blasted my sweaty T-shirt. "I've made a decision."

"OK," my mother said. "About what?"

About this whole lousy football experiment, that's what.

Three days. That was enough for me. I hadn't expected my first week of organized football practice to be easy -- or even fun, really -- but this was intolerable. Waking up at 6 a.m. in the summer? Stretching on dewy grass? Colliding with guys twice my size?

What 14-year-old would possibly want to do that?

Anybody's who's gone through high school two-a-days has probably had a moment like I did that fateful afternoon in 1991, on my way home from the morning practice at Leonardtown High School.

It's the moment you start to think that sleep sounds really nice, that hanging out with your friends sure beats performing up-downs on a dusty practice field.

I'd never been a football guy, anyway. Never played in youth leagues. A friend said I should try it as a freshman, said I was big enough, said we'd have a blast together on Friday nights.

But I wasn't going to make it to Friday nights.

"I'm quitting," I said.

There. Done. Mom, after all, should be the first one you tell. She's the one who shuttles you back and forth from that cursed field when you're not old enough to drive. She's the one who sees you sleep-deprived and irritable. She's your sounding board when you rip the crazy assistant coaches.

Heck, I thought. She'd probably be happy. This would free up her afternoons.

"Well," Mom said, "that's your decision."

That's what her mouth said. But then I looked at her eyes -- I'll never forget this -- and they said something different.

When it comes to athletes and moms, it's always about the eyes. This starts at a very young age. "Watch this, Mom!" we say. "Did you SEE that, MOM?!" we ask. I can already see it in my 3-year-old son. Oh, he wants me to pitch the baseball. He wants me to chase him around the bases. He wants me to kick the soccer ball, toss the football or step in the box and face his heater.

But there's nothing he wants more than for his mother to watch.

"You watchin'?" he says, lifting the bat.

"Sure am!" my wife says.


And then he grins like he's just won a lollipop lottery.

My mother was not grinning that day in the car. She had a look I hadn't seen before, a look of disappointment, and it bothered me. It's not like I hadn't already established myself as a Hall of Fame quitter. I gave up the trumpet after a month -- no quibbles from Mom. I spent one day in Boy Scouts, discovered that we'd be making pine cone bird feeders instead of killing bears, and never went back. Mom never said a word.

"Something wrong?" I asked.

And then she said something that changed the course of my life. Not just because I would get in the car with her later that afternoon and go back to practice. Not just because I would find out my that friend had been right, that we would have a blast on Friday nights together for the next four years. Not just because I would make a bunch of new friends and learn a ton about the most popular sport in America.

No. It's because her words applied to a lot more than football, and they've zipped through my head ever since whenever adversity strikes.

"Are you sure you've thought this through?" Mom said. "I mean, you made a commitment."

You know, Hallmark is going to make a lot of money today. There are thousands of Mother's Day greeting cards out there, each one trying to say something funny or cute or poignant or special. Most contain better words than I can conceive.

But I need only seven to say what I need to say.

Thanks, Mom. You made a commitment, too.

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